Is the U.S. ready for a food revolution? Depending on who you ask, answers to that question could range from "Yes!" to "A what?" to "Sure, but hasn't it been happening for a while? Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser – ring a bell?" Well, there seems to be plenty of revolutionizing to go around, and Jamie Oliver is jumping in with a big network TV reality show set in "America's unhealthiest city."
When we say "big network TV reality show," we mean it. "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," produced by Ryan Seacrest, is a show about food in the style of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition." If you watched his TED Talk, you'll see a lot of the same points covered in the show, but here everything is done in a big way and there's no shortage of drama.
In the first episode, Oliver arrives in Huntington, W.Va., found to be America's unhealthiest city in 2008 by the U.S. Centers or Disease Control and Prevention based on adult obesity rates and related diseases. He's determined to show the town how to change their eating habits and get healthy. His first stop is an interview with an opinionated talk radio host where he is shocked (shocked!) to find a chilly reception.
From there, it's off to meet the school cooks who he'll be working alongside for the next week and they're equally skeptical and surly about his ideas for change. He doesn't help matters by calling them "lunch ladies," and after one particularly frustrating day with them, we see him sitting in a playground, crying.
But despite any contrived drama, the troubling food that is served in the school is very real. Breakfast is frozen pizza and sugary cereal floating in neon pink milk. And after a lunch of fried chicken nuggets and more sugary milk, Oliver stands guard over the trash line and watches as the only healthy food served – fruit and freshly baked bread – is overwhelmingly thrown away. When he quizzes a group of kids about what they ate for dinner the night before, it's nearly all chicken nuggets and chicken fingers.
Oliver's mantra throughout the show is that this generation of children is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, and that this kind of eating, over the long haul, will kill you. Reality show antics aside, his concern and commitment to the problem are obviously genuine and his message is compelling. You'd be hard pressed to watch this show and not think about it the next time you sit down to a meal. And so, we can only hope this show is the next "Dancing with the Stars."
"Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" premieres Friday on ABC with a two-hour special. You can see the preview episode online now.
Related: Jamie Oliver's TED Talk: Teach Kids About Food